Jennifer Bourne, Associate Director of Berggruen Fellowships and the Berggruen China Center, is living and working in Los Angeles with her husband and two young children. She describes her whole experience right now as déjà vu. She was born and raised in China and still has most of her family members living there. In January, when the virus first broke out in China, she was concerned about the health of her family and co-workers there and witnessed remotely the drastic and long-lasting adjustments they had to make under quarantine. Now as many states in America are following suit and ordering people to stay and work from home, she’s decided to seek advice from the Berggruen Institute China team on how to manage a self-quarantine life and stay healthy.
The world has become a much more disconnected place lately, and, like all of us, Berggruen’s Los Angeles team has been feeling the difficulties of the COVID-19 quarantine. From the challenges of working from home to the isolation of social distancing, being under quarantine has upended our routines and forced us to scramble to find the new norm of daily life.
To combat this unique time in history, we’ve decided to compile a set of lists using advice from the Berggruen Institute China team, who have become experts in self-quarantine over the past weeks. With questions and answers related to any and all parts of their daily lives, some responses will bring a smile to your face while others will hopefully provide guidance.
We would like to thank our China team for taking the time to answer our questions and satisfy our curiosities:
• Shelley Hu (SH) – Program Coordinator
• Xinyuan Tian (XT) – Program Coordinator
• Qun Xiang (QX) – Office Manager
Xiaojiao (XJ) is living with her husband and three cats in Beijing. Shelley Hu (SH) is sharing an apartment with a roommate near Peking University. Xinyuan Tian (XT) is staying with her parents in her hometown and worried about when and how to get back to Beijing. Qun Xiang (QX) is living with her husband in Beijing.
Each week we’ll be sharing a new list with you, so make sure to check back weekly. From our team to yours, stay healthy and safe.
Community and Social Life
Now that you guys are on the tail end of the crisis, have you noticed any long-term changes in society or is it back to business as usual?
XJ: Most people are still wearing masks. People don’t want to get close to you at all. Can you imagine that? Chinese people want to keep a distance from each other, just never happened before other than during SARS time.
What did you find were the biggest concerns/fears in your community?
SH: The biggest social concern I experienced was the fear of not being able to go back to the city you work, in my case Beijing. In addition, the fear of not being able to go back to the flat you rented, because your neighborhood has unreasonable restrictions.
XT: I have the same feelings with Shelley. I don’t have hukou (household registration) or my own apartment in Beijing, and now I’m still staying in my hometown. I’m worried every day thinking of when I should return to Beijing. My mom teaches at a senior high school, and what worries her most is when the students can go back to school. Her students are taking the college entrance exam in June.
XJ: I fear that the CDC system won’t change. Fears that they will be lax again about wild animal protection in the future.
What is something you’ve learned from this experience that you wish you knew at the beginning?
SH: Have emergency storage.
XJ: Stop panicking. It will be fine.
What was your feeling on the overall mood in society in regard to the massive restrictions on daily life?
SH: Frustrated with the restrictions at first but now it feels “normal”.
XJ: It’s everyone’s duty. Just remember we have the luxury to stay at home, the medical workers don’t! The best you can do is to obey these rules and don’t put more pressure on them.
Staying Healthy: Emotionally and Physically
How do you overcome stress and combat loneliness?
XJ: We have two close friends that we trust. Four of us did go out during the peak time of the outbreak. Some pubs in Beijing were still open and they would spray the tables and chairs before you sit down and after your leave. They are careful and we feel comfortable. We also gather at home, four of us and animals, to watch a movie together. Don’t watch Contagion!
I keep myself busy by calling mom, dad, grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc.
SH: I annoy my cat. Sometimes I’m so stressed that I escape by wrapping myself tightly with my duvet and just sleep.
My friends and I stress each other out with information 24 hours a day. After a few days, I decided to mute my WeChat group.
Are you watching any good TV shows or movies?
XJ: A Street Cat Named Bob. A very, very warm British movie; happy ending, touching story.
XT: I watched Modern Love. It’s light and each episode lasts only 30 minutes. If you’re a fan of the New York Times column or the podcast, I highly recommend it. I also watched The Capture, a British crime-drama series. If you’re interested in issues related to privacy, facial recognition and surveillance, I recommend it. (Warning: The plot can be very disturbing sometimes.)
Every time I’m stressed out, I watch The Great British Bake Off. Shelley reminds me that I also recommend Young Sheldon. My mom loves it!!
SH: Strongly recommend Rick and Morty!!! I also watch Young Sheldon.
How much time do you spend following the news each day? Do you worry about fake news/rumors?
XJ: ONLY READ NEWS FROM CREDIT SOURCES, STOP BELIEVING IN FACEBOOK NEWS AND TWITTER NEWS. This is very important. We had a lot of scary but fake information here when it first started. Government and CDC clarified a lot, and some official news channels started fake news lists/databases for people to check.
Do not check the case numbers or how hospitals are coping or how people are dying before going to bed, it doesn’t help anyone but only to give you nightmares. Off the news!
SH: I assigned an hour each day for coronavirus news intake from credible sources and forced myself to stop constantly checking for news.
Any surprising revelations?
SH: Mine is to always have a relatively large amount of disposable cash for emergencies, I ended up spending nearly 5000 CNY in one go purchasing face masks and Dettol for my family at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. From my roommate: “think carefully before you quit a job, you never know when there’s an economic downturn due to a sudden pandemic.”
XT: Mine is to always have some food, medicines, and cleaning supplies in stock. I suddenly realize that I really need to spend more time with my family. Also, I begin seriously saving money.
XJ: I start calling my grandparents every week.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, or in this case your apartment, what would be the one thing you couldn’t live without?
SH: My cat.
XJ: Shelley is a crazy cat lady, period.
It is a bit private, but would you mind telling us if you’ve gained weight or lost weight?
XT: I definitely gained weight but haven’t weighed myself (because I don’t really want to know how many pounds I’ve gained). It’s really hard to control what I eat or how much I eat when I live with my parents.
SH: I’ve been doing a lot of stress eating, so I’ve definitely gained weight. We’ve also been advised by experts not to use weight loss diets as this may affect your immune system.
XJ: Leave the fitness jobs to better times, eat ice cream now.
Are there any exercise routines or programs you’d recommend?
XT: Ballet Beautiful (The leg exercises are killing me), Pamela Reif HIIT, XHIT
QX: Yes, I do Ballet Beautiful like XT and other exercises every day. Given the summer is coming, I am glad my body becomes more flexible as I bend down to touch my toes… Haaa
SH: I watch and exercise along with aerobic exercise and yoga videos.
Any tips to avoid (or not) constant snacking throughout the day?
XJ: Drink tea.
XT: Don’t buy any.
SH: I’m going to pass this question since snacking makes me happy.
Work and Productivity
Working from Home
How do you manage your time and stay focused?
XJ: I stick to my schedule just like when I go to the office. Talking to colleagues and friends online is good for your mental health.
SH: I use Ryder Carroll’s bullet journal method to keep myself on track. I split my working-day into fixed time intervals and assign tasks to each time slot.
Have you developed new skills/interests while working from home?
XJ: I draw sketches, write up visiting notes to Italy and day dream the next trip.
XT: I did not really read sci-fi novels before. Now since I have more time staying at home and I am doing research on sci-fi writers, I find sci-fi books fascinating, and Ted Chiang is my favorite.
SH: I restarted sewing and French embroidery. I’m also learning an intangible cultural heritage skill of making flowers out of silk threads from a documentary.
Daily Home Life
What’s the best food to buy for quarantine? Do you disinfect food at home?
XJ: I prefer to buy fruits with thick skins that can be peeled off easily, like bananas and oranges. I cook my vegetables because the virus dies when the temperature is higher than 53°C (127.4°F).
SH: I only buy easy-to-cook food, as I get tired of cooking quickly. I wash veggies and fruits under running water and disinfect snack packaging with alcohol wipes.
How do you accept mail and deliveries?
XJ: We ask the delivery guys to leave the stuff at the door and leave. After they have left, we’d go and collect it. Such practice is considered rude in normal times, but the new norm under current situations. Believe me, the mailmen don’t want to see you in person either. We left extra hand sanitizer for some of the delivery guys to take away. They needed it more than us.
SH: Deliveries can no longer go up to every apartment. We pick them up from an open space for parcel collection in the neighborhood. I don’t do online shopping as much as I used to.
Do you worry that your pets could contract the virus and pass it on to you?
XJ: Most updated article on this: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/3076480/coronavirus-hong-kongs-infected-dogs-were
SH: No. My cat stays indoors, so I’m more of a threat than him.
Do you still walk your dogs outside? If so, what precautions do you take?
XJ: My friend who takes his dog for walks outside always brings a zip bag with a wet towel in it, so when the dog comes home or enters a pub, he can wipe her feet. That’s all we have done for pets.
Safety & Disinfecting
What is your procedure, if any, for entering your home after going outside?
XJ: I leave my coat, hat, gloves, and shoes outside of my house. I clean my hands with hand sanitizer/alcohol spray and then open the door. I wash my hands immediately after I get inside.
SH: After taking my mask off, I wipe my phone with a 70% alcohol wipe and wash my hands thoroughly with soap. Remember to use hand cream after, don’t ask me how I know 🙁
QX: We change our clothes /shoes to the indoor casual ones. We sanitize the door handles and mobile phones by using 70% alcohol wipes. One house rule is that no one touches the surface of the indoor furniture or light switches without washing hands first.
Do you sanitize your house? How often?
XT：I live with my parents and we vacuum the apartment every other day. We disinfect the kitchen and bathroom using alcohol wipes every day.
XJ: No. Open the windows more often.
SH: My roommate and I clean our apartment thoroughly every weekend and sanitize the floor with either Dettol or chlorine. Chlorine is much safer for cats. We also use 70% alcohol wipes to clean surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom.
QX: Just regular cleaning every day. Remember to open the windows more often. I’d also suggest sanitizing the surface of shared tables, doorbells and door handles, light switches. If you use cloth towels, clean them more often.
Do you wear masks whenever you are outside the home? If so, how often do you change your masks? Any tips on reusing disposable masks since supply is short?
XT: I wear a mask whenever I’m outside because I’m not allowed to enter any public space without wearing one. (Sometimes the atmosphere makes me feel that going outside without wearing a mask is like running naked.) I use one mask for at least three days because I go outside home only to get deliveries.
XJ: I reuse all of my masks. According to some expert tips, you can leave your masks outside for a day or two, enough time for the virus to die if there is any on the mask. You can also put your mask close to a heater as the heat will kill the virus too. Your mask can’t get WET! The surgical masks and N95 use static electricity to suck particles, once they are wet, they are gone.
SH: Yes, we are not allowed to go outside without a mask. I use a new mask each time for the first three trips outside. When I come back, I hang the used mask on my balcony. Then on the fourth trip, I reuse the mask I wore the first trip; on my fifth trip, I reuse the mask I wore on the second trip …. The system goes on until I’ve used each mask 3-4 times before disposing them and starting a new batch. However, if I’m out for a whole day, I won’t reuse my mask.